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125 Years of The Penn Relays

Words: Keith E. Morrison

Images: Keith E. Morrison

In truth, I had fallen out of love with running some time ago; I’ve watched as pairs of trainers collected dust underneath my bed frame and let the idea of chasing down PR’s fade away. I had packed away singlets and tossed out commemorative t-shirts from races past. I placed marathon medals inside old Amazon boxes and long forgotten what it had meant to dedicate so much of yourself and your time to just one cause. I knew that the narrative of running and its tie to my athletic life was not over but had no idea when it would pick back up again.

As I entered the grounds of Franklin’s Field on Thursday morning for the 125th iteration of the Penn Relays I was overcome with a flashback of my youth. Exactly 20 years ago I had entered very same field as a 7th-grade student to compete with my team of St. Jerome. I sat in the second tier of bleachers on the Northeast side of the stadium and vomited into my father’s Coleman cooler as the nerves consumed me. I don’t remember my result that day, but I do remember the overwhelming sense of having a stadium full of eyes upon you during what was your pinnacle track moment as a youth; it was one of the few times that we as amateur athletes can usurp the roles of our idols and command the attention of thousands if even just for 14 seconds.

Throughout the three days I was on the campus of UPenn I watched as athletes, regardless of age, poured themselves out to every second they were given. I witnessed countless runners collapsing on the line, teammates cheering from the bottom of their lungs at one another, coaches consoling, come from behind victories, countrymen swelling with pride for their homeland, and so much more.


I watched as a slew of grade school students were forced under the bleachers when thunder, lightning, and rain took over the festivities. Instead of wallowing in sadness, the children all rallied together echoing chants of, “let us run, let us run,” throughout the underbelly of the field. I could barely bring the camera to my eye to capture the moment as the passion was so contagious and I had wanted to participate more than I wanted to photograph it.








I left that Saturday feeling as though a small ember had been rekindled; finding myself wanting to run again fueled by the passion of those who never questioned the significance of the sport in their life and how powerful of a tool it could be.